Las Vegas • As Larry Krystkowiak began speaking Wednesday afternoon, he offered the notion that every loss is tough to take.
The University of Utah head coach is correct, of course, no loss is easy to take, nor should it be if you paint yourself as a true competitor. That said, not all losses are created equal, and some are tougher to stomach than others.
Take the Utes’ latest first-round exit at the Pac-12 Tournament for example. Krystkowiak’s team got a single-game tournament record 11 3-pointers and a career-high 35 points from junior guard Alfonso Plummer. They overcame foul trouble, they outrebounded their opponent to the tune of plus-13, they overcame 16 turnovers and 21 points off those turnovers through 39:57. They navigated a rough day from Both Gach and led by four with 1:12 to play at T-Mobile Arena.
The 17th turnover was the backbreaker, leading to points 22, 23, and 24 off turnovers via a Jarod Lucas 3-pointer from the left corner with three seconds to play as No. 8 seed Oregon State downed the ninth-seeded Utes, 71-69.
No, all losses are not created equal, or as painful, even if they’re all tough to take.
“Thanks for reminding me,” Krystkowiak said sarcastically. “They're always hard to take, regardless. There really aren't any little things in the game, and to come out on the losing end, it's really tough. I wasn't ready to speak to our team at the end of the conference tournament. I didn't think it was going to happen quite yet.
“It's kind of the harsh reality, being 80 or 100 feet away from Oregon State at one end of the spectrum celebrating in their locker room, and then it's kind of the epitome of sports, we all ride the highs and lows of it.”
There have been plenty of lows the last few years for Utah at the Pac-12 Tournament. The Utes are 0-4 at the event since it was moved to T-Mobile from MGM Grand Garden Arena, just a half mile down the Las Vegas Strip. The previous three losses featured Utah teams that had earned first-round byes via a top-four finish in the standings. This one featured a young Utes team, which, at times, has looked capable of significant things, but other times as what it is, the third-youngest team in the country.
At various points on Wednesday, the Utes looked like both.
Plummer had an out-of-body experience in the first half when he hit seven triples as part of a 23-point outburst. He hit open shots with confidence, and when Oregon State defenders actually closed out in a timely fashion, the former JUCO All-American hit those, too. Man-to-man defense, 2-3 zone, didn’t matter. Plummer, who often appears conscience-free with his shot selection, delivered Utah a 14-point lead with 17:09 to play.
At that point, the Beavers decided to go exotic with a 1-3-1 zone, and that paid off. Plummer cooled off, the Utes offense stalled, the Beavers clawed their way back into a game that never really felt lost, even with Plummer hitting everything.
Plummer’s 11th and final 3-pointer gave Utah a 69-65 lead with 1:12 left. Lucas answered that with one of his own from the left wing. Oregon State turned Gach over, the aforementioned 17th turnover, and the sixth for Gach alone.
Timeout, Beavers, with 16 seconds left. Patience, patience. Tres Tinkle drives, kicks to Lucas, no hesitation, dagger for Oregon State’s first lead since the 3:51 mark of the first half.
All losses are tough, but no, all losses are not created equal.
“They made two big threes in the last 30 seconds,” Krystkowiak said. “I thought we lacked a little discipline on the second-to-last one, and then we tried to step in on penetration for the last one and weren't fortunate enough to get the call. But they hit two big threes, and obviously two really nice passes that led to that.”
Utah (16-15) remains in the NIT mix, and Krystkowiak was clear that the Utes would accept a bid, should one come. The NIT Selection Show will air Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.